So, over the past two weeks two Nauru-based asylum seekers have set themselves on fire. The first, a young Iranian man called Omid Masoumali, died of his burns in a Brisbane hospital. The second, a 21-year-old Somali woman named Hodan Yasin, set herself alight yesterday and is now in a critical condition. Reports suggest at least one other man has been prevented from doing the same.
As far as I understand this is the tip of the iceberg. Depression, anger and self-harm are widespread amongst the asylum seekers on Nauru, Manus, Christmas Island and the various detention centres on the Australian mainland.
Who is responsible for this shocking self-harm, these acts of desperation, these signs of hopelessness and despair? Minister for Immigration and Border Protection Peter Dutton wants us to believe it's the fault of human rights advocates, says the Brisbane Times (which, by the way, is the source of the photo).
He expressed anger at advocates and others "who are encouraging some of these people to behave in a certain way, believing that that pressure exerted on the Australian Government will see a change in our policy in relation to our border protection measures".
"These behaviours have intensified in recent times and as we see, they have turned to extreme acts with terrible consequences," Mr Dutton said.
"Advocates who proclaim to represent and support the interests of refugees and asylum seekers must frankly hear a clear message ... their activities and these behaviours must end."
So, Mr Dutton, self-harm is caused by people who suggest that perhaps somewhere in the make-up of your government there is a shred of humanity, who suggest to them that somewhere, sometime they will have a future? Whereas if everyone just stayed on message and convinced them that there is no hope, that the world is all black and they may as well give up living now, then this self-harm would stop?
Our humanitarians, those who would like to befriend refugees and settle them here in our prosperous democratic country, are robbing them of hope, are they? While your government is bringing them hope and light with your determination to ensure their only option is life on an island with no economy aside from housing our unwanted refugees, or on an archipelago with the highest murder rate in the world, or a poor repressive South-East Asian nation?
Your government, which without warning took a depressed and injured Hodan Yasin from her bed in the Brisbane detention centre and bundled her onto a plane back to Nauru against her will and contrary to medical advice ? Your government, which has poured billions into a system that is specifically designed to rob people of all hope, is not to blame for their despair?
It seems to me, Mr Dutton, that these acts of self-harm are precisely the outcome your billions and your relentless denial of hope are designed to produce. What could send a clearer signal to the people smugglers and those who might buy their services than a spectacular, public act of suicide? Perhaps if you filmed the act it would have a bigger impact, but beyond that it is hard to see how you could design a more effective deterrent. Well done. I hope you are proud of yourself.
Mr Dutton squares his jaw while his opposite number Richard Marles wrings his hands and promises to do just what Dutton is doing, but more effectively. Meanwhile in the real world where black is not white, lies are not truth and people take responsibility for their own actions we, the Australian People, seem to be about to elect a government in which one of these men will be Minister for Immigration and Border Protection.
Do we want to do that? Can we, in all conscience, continue to vote for politicians who deliberately cause suffering to innocent people? Whether they are steely jawed or hand-wringing, we should do better. We can do better. Will we?